Developing education research capacity: What can government do?
In developing the National Strategy of Educational Research and Enquiry (NSERE), the Welsh government conducted several evidence reviews to understand how to foster educational research capacity across education in Wales. These reviews examined a number of areas of education research capacity building, including how national governments can develop infrastructure and policy to catalyse education research capacity building throughout the education research ‘ecosystem’ (Royal Society & British Academy, 2018).
This blog post summarises insights from a mixed-methods evidence review, drawing on nine expert interviewees and country case studies of Ontario (Canada), England and Singapore.
Insight 1: Different models for different contexts
Ontario (Canada), England and Singapore were selected as key national/regional case studies in this evidence review given that each country is recognised, by the OECD (2007), the British Academy and Royal Society (2018), and expert interviewees, as comparatively effective exemplars of national government capacity building in education research. Yet, as a collection of case studies, they indicate that no single ‘model’ of education research capacity building can be ‘borrowed’ and implemented to other contexts. For example, in England there is a more indirect, laissez-faire approach to capacity building by the Department for Education, wherein external research is commissioned, but where the wider education research ecosystem is fragmented, with pockets of partnership working present. On the contrary, the Singapore Ministry of Education has a close partnership with the National Institute for Education (NIE), whereby sustained research funding is provided and secondment opportunities are frequently undertaken by policymakers and research alike. Sitting between these two cases is Ontario, which invested significantly in internal capacity within government to lead knowledge mobilisation activities with researchers and practitioners (Campbell & Fulford, 2009).
As a consequence, these different models can be seen as exemplars from which lessons can be learnt, but that must be applied to specific national, political and cultural contexts.
Insight 2: Government strategic leadership of the ecosystem
Ontario and Singapore were recognised by expert interviewees for their strong record in building education research capacity. In both of these contexts, government leadership of the research ecosystem has been developed via a range of infrastructural developments, including internal ministry committees in the case of Ontario that avoid overlap in funded research activity, and ministry representation on NIE research committees where government funding is allocated.
Developing a national or provincial strategy for education research and enquiry is another way to lead the education research ecosystem to ensure research priorities are sufficiently addressed. For example, the Ontario Education Research and Evaluation Strategy set clear objectives and actions to be taken to build research capacity. In creating a framework, this signified the cultural change towards research conduct and use envisaged, and clearly outlines infrastructural developments that were required.
Insight 3: Partnership working
Developing national infrastructure that convenes stakeholders from across the education research ecosystem and enables partnership working is also essential for building education research capacity. Different forms of partnership working are found across the three case studies, all of which aim to develop ‘relationship capital’ between policymaking, researcher and practitioner communities (Chapman et al., 2017). An emerging way to initiate partnership working across the ecosystem stakeholders is through developing research brokerage organisations (RBOs). RBOs aim to bridge the distance between policy, research and practice communities (see Cooper & Shewchuk, 2015). Although RBOs operate in a number of countries, they as yet do not follow a single model of practice, with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) an example where research brokerage is one, of several, aspects of education research capacity building. Singapore’s National Institute of Education operates in a similar manner to the EEF, yet in Ontario investment was made in the development of practitioner networks which was less strictly aligned to government (Campbell & Fulford, 2009).
Insight 4: Sustained funding of policy- and practice-relevant research
Related to the above insights is the provision of sustained funding of policy- and practice-relevant research activity. This provision not only encompasses research project funding, but continued support, via funding, of infrastructure to enable knowledge mobilisation and partnership working.
Taking Singapore as an example of sustained research funding, S$375m has been invested in NIE research alone since 2002, in recognition of the importance of research and innovation to education development (Kwek, 2018). This, alongside National Research Foundation and internal ministry research, represents a significant level of funding of education research over more than two decades.
This blog post suggests that while different national approaches to education research capacity building can be adopted, there are key strands of activity that require government attention. Specifically, governments must commit to leading and facilitating the education research ecosystem through the funding of research and partnership working infrastructure. This leadership must be sustained for education research capacity to be meaningfully fostered.
Campbell, C., & Fulford, D. (2009). From knowledge generation to knowledge integration: Analysis of how a government uses research. Paper presented to American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, 2009. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228790141_From_knowledge_generation_to_knowledge_integration_Analysis_of_how_a_government_uses_research
Chapman, C., van Amersfoort, D., & Watson, N. (2017). What works in public service leadership: Exploring the potential. What Works Scotland. http://whatworksscotland.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/WWSPublicServiceLeadershipExploringThePotential.pdf
Cooper, A., & Shewchuk, S. (2015). Knowledge brokers in education: How intermediary organizations are bridging the gap between research, policy and practice internationally. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(118). http://dx.doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v23.2355
Kwek, D. (2018). Overview of the education system and education research in Singapore. National Institute of Education, Singapore. http://education.academy.ac.il/SystemFiles/Overview%20Singapore.pdf
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] (2007). Evidence in education: Linking research and policy. https://www.oecd.org/education/ceri/evidenceineducationlinkingresearchandpolicy.htm#1
The Royal Society and the British Academy (2018). Harnessing educational research. https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/rs-ba-educational-research/educational-research-report.pdf